12 Christmas Traditions in the Philippines

Christmas Traditions of Filipinos

Each country has its own set of Christmas traditions, but the Filipinos excel at them. After all, we celebrate Christmas for a longer period than any other country on Earth. With a holiday that is unusually long, we are certain to have more traditions than usual.

With Christmas rapidly approaching, we’d like to remind you of what to expect during an iconic Filipino Christmas season.

1. Beginning Christmas during the -ber months

If you Google “world’s longest Christmas season,” the Philippines will come up. Christmas, for the majority, begins in December. However, for Filipinos, Christmas begins the moment September arrives.

Although there is no textbook explanation for why Christmas is celebrated so early, there are theories. Perhaps it is due to our predominantly Catholic beliefs, but advent does not begin until December.

2. Setting up of Belen

Christmas Belen | Christmas Traditions of Filipinos
Christmas Belen | Christmas Traditions of Filipinos | Photo from Walter Chavez in Unsplash

In most countries, nativity scenes – also called belen – are displayed exclusively in churches or other religious spaces. However, it is prevalent throughout the Philippines. Indeed, during the festive season, every Filipino household will host one.

A complete set includes the infant Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Three Kings, and every barn animal imaginable, but many belens omit the latter two due to their unimportance. You’ll find them in schools, building lobbies, and homes, whether they’re made of original porcelain or recycled materials. Some schools and barangays even hold competitions to determine who has the best belen, resulting in some extravagant displays.

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3. Using a Parol or Filipino Christmas Lanterns

While everyone is familiar with Christmas lights, the Philippines has its own ornament, the parol. Traditionally, parols are shaped like a large circle with a central star, but you can choose from a variety of other designs such as stars and flowers. Additionally, it can be constructed out of a variety of materials, including plastic, wire, wood, and even recyclable materials.

The parol was originally designed to be hung on lamp posts to direct mass-goers to Simbang Gabi, but they can now be found outside homes, in malls, and in offices as part of the Filipino Christmas traditions.

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4. Simbang Gabi

Simbang Gabi translates as “night mass,” which it is. For the nine days preceding Christmas, Filipinos attend mass late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. We make an effort to attend all nine days, both as a religious practice and in the belief that attending all nine masses will grant one a wish.

Churches are decorated for the season, and vendors frequently sell traditional Christmas goods such as bibingka and puto bumbong outside following the mass.

5. Bibingka and Puto Bumbong

While staying up late or getting up early for Simbang Gabi may make you hungry, a serving of bibingka and puto bumbong should satisfy your hunger and calm you down. These are the two most popular and beloved Christmas treats enjoyed by Filipinos.

Both are rice cake variations; bibingka is baked in clay pots and leaves, whereas puto bumbong is steamed in bamboo tubes.

6. Christmas Carols

Christmas caroling, in most countries, entails a full production of excellent vocals, coordinated outfits, instruments, and well-practiced Christmas tunes. It has devolved into a farcical situation for us.

Beginning in early December, both children and adults in the Philippines go house to house. Lyric books and Christmas costumes are abandoned in favor of recycled instruments and fabricated lyrics. Caroling, with its a-brim-bram-brooms and jinggom bells, is a sure sign that Christmas is near.

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7. Attending Misa de Gallo

Sunday masses are routine, but Christmas services are extra special. Misa de Gallo, the Christmas mass attended by most Filipinos, is distinct from Sunday mass. It is a festival that includes candle lighting, projection displays, and occasionally a re-enactment of the birth of Jesus.

Additionally, Misa de Gallo is the first mass following the nine-day Simbang Gabi fast. If you attend all nine days of Simbang Gabi, it is believed that you can make a wish during Misa de Gallo.

8. Keeping Awake for Noche Buena

While most people eat their Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve or Christmas night, Filipinos frequently rise at midnight to celebrate Noche Buena, a lavish feast of traditional Filipino Christmas dishes such as lechon, queso de bola, hamon, spaghetti, and fruit salad as part of the regular household Christmas traditions of every Filipino.

Additionally, most Filipino families spend the majority of the year apart, with children attending college and parents working abroad. The mundane act of Noche Buena preparation is also something we look forward to, as it allows us to prepare meals and cook together as a family.

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9. Manito-Manita

Because exchanging gifts in the conventional manner is tedious, we added a Filipino flair. Not only must you find the ideal present for your manita or manito, but you must also describe them, have everyone guess who it is, and sing the classic I Love My Manita/Manito Yes, I Do song before presenting your gift.

It may sound like a lot of work, but this is the season of giving, and it’s a joy to see how content everyone is with their gifts.

10. Aguinaldo or Pamasko

Aguinaldo or Pamasko | Christmas Traditions of Filipinos
Aguinaldo or Pamasko | Christmas Traditions of Filipinos | Photo from Freestocks in Unsplash

This is for children who spend the entire season searching for their ninangs and ninongs. While unwrapping presents is enjoyable, receiving a red envelope is equally so. Gifted to godchildren by godparents, the money in these ang pao is frequently used for savings or a nice Christmas treat for yourself. Regardless of whether we receive P20s or the large blue ones, we should never forget to express gratitude.

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11. Anticipation of the Media Noche

For us Filipinos, Christmas does not conclude on December 25th. While most people celebrate the new year with friends, our family-oriented culture adds another lavish feast to the mix – Media Noche. Typically, the table is adorned with round-shaped food and an assortment of twelve round fruits, as circles are believed to bring good fortune.

Apart from that, there is a belief that loud noises deter evil spirits from entering the new year, which is why we make the most noise possible when the clock strikes midnight – whether it’s with car alarms, instruments, a torotot, or sparklers and firecrackers.

12. The Feast of the Three Kings concludes Christmas in January

Christmas Tradition of ending the Holidays until January
Christmas Tradition of ending the Holidays until January | Photo from Anthony Cantin in Unsplash

Christmas, according to our priests, does not end until January. The Epiphany, or Feast of the Three Kings, commemorates the day the Three Kings arrived at Jesus’ manger. Additionally, it is the final day of our extended Christmas season. Epiphany occurs on January’s first Sunday, which means that Christmas continues well into the new year.

The Joy of Philippine Christmas Traditions

While our Christmas may not involve snow angels or being wrapped in thick coats and scarves, that does not mean we are incapable of having a good time. While the Yuletide is well-known for its snowy and winter celebrations, our sunny, tropical country and our Christmas traditions make the holiday season bright and cheerful.

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